The Who & Ramones Managers Share Rock 'n' Roll Tales in New Films

Chris Stamp, Pete Townshend and Kit Lambert, in "Lambert + Stamp"
Sony Pictures Classics

Chris Stamp, Pete Townshend and Kit Lambert, in "Lambert + Stamp"

Watch an exclusive clip from "Lambert + Stamp" featuring Pete Townshend.

Less than two weeks before The Who start the U.S. leg of their 50th anniversary tour, the story of the two men who guided their career in the 1960s is hitting theaters. 

Lambert + Stamp -- James D. Cooper's film on Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp, the Who's managers between 1965 and 1975 -- focuses on their personalities and their unlikely pairing. Lambert is gay, cultured and educated; Stamp’s a working-class East Ender, and in the Who, they saw a unique union of two working-class rockers (Roger Daltrey and John Entwhistle), an off-kilter personality (Keith Moon) and an art school student (Pete Townshend).

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“I very much wanted to look at the desire to transcend the constraints of one’s situations,” says Cooper, a cinematographer making his debut with this documentary, which premiered at Sundance last year. “When Kit and Chris came in, they saw an opportunity. The audience was not just being entertained by a musical act; there was some kind of synergy happening, and that’s what they keyed into. They saw the opportunity to direct the scene, give it some leadership.

“The thesis for the movie actually existed in the dynamic of the band and the audience. Two fabulous but unknown guys in the shadow of deity.”

Lambert + Stamp opens April 3 in L.A. and New York will roll out through the country in April and May. The routing of the release has not yet been determined.

In this exclusive clip from the film, Townshend reflects on how the managers changed his life:

Lambert + Stamp, which Sony Pictures Classics acquired at Sundance after its world premiere in January 2014 and kept under wraps until now,  is yet another film that gets to the heart of building a rock 'n' roll career from a management perspective. Mike Myers covered the career of Alice Cooper manager Shep Gordon in Supermensch, which had a small theatrical run in the summer, grossing $213,000, and this year's SXSW saw the world premiere of Brendan Toller's Danny Says about Ramones manager and rock 'n' roll bon vivant Danny Fields. (Danny Says has yet to find a distributor and is expected ot play more film festivals). 

Each film presents music management as an escape route. Lambert and Stamp were aspiring filmmakers who saw the Who and their audience as the perfect subject for a film about early '60s London; Gordon took to Alice Cooper to get out of dealing marijuana; and Fields' career bounced from Datebook magazine editor to publicist for the Doors to guiding the Stooges, the Ramones and Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers.

“I had no talent,” says Fields, who dropped out of Harvard Law School at 19 and started hanging out with Andy Warhol. “I was enchanted with talent -- I wanted to be near it.”

Cooper and Toller shared similar paths in creating their films, having become social acquaintances with their subjects. Both were blessed with an overwhelming amount of archival footage and still photographs. They worked without input from their subjects beyond on-camera interviews, and in both cases, the time it took to make the film far exceeded their initial intentions: Cooper spent 11 years on Lambert + Stamp; Toller worked for five years on Danny Says.

“His stories before this have been littered across a lot of rock ‘n’ roll books,” says Toller, whose debut film I Need That Record was about the closing of record stores. “I hope the documentary shows how, through his brilliance, he can traverse these really wild scenes.”

Toller interviewed 60 people -- among them Iggy Pop, Alice Cooper and  Elektra Records founder Jac Holzman -- and pieced together a story  that includes Fields’ publishing John Lennon’s quote about the Beatles being more popular than Christianity, his introduction of Pop to David Bowie, signing Nico to Elektra and signing on with the Ramones in 1975.

“The movie is about the stories of these marquee names that I’m a product of, I guess,” Fields says, noting he was always first attracted to a song and then the person who wrote or recorded it. “And all those people are fine people.”

In Lambert + Stamp, the role of the manager is far more methodical. As the band grew in popularity, their dream of making a film about the Who’s rise faded and the duo stuck with a life in the music industry. They created a label, Track Records, solely to work with Jimi Hendrix, and scored hits with the Crazy World of Arthur Brown and Thunderclap Newman. Lambert, educated in opera and classical music through his composer-conductor father, helped Townshend shape Tommy; once the Who cut them lose, the two moved to New York and worked with Patti Labelle.

 “I see the film very much as a story of transcendence,” says Cooper. “It wasn’t so much the details of who did what and why, but how the characters moved on and transcended the situation.”

Spectacular soundtracks bolster both films, as do unique perspectives from musicians no longer living. A tape of Lou Reed discussing the Ramones' first album, for example, is a priceless segment in Danny Says. Lambert speaks to French and German television about London's mod scene, and by having cameras rolling seemingly nonstop, Lambert + Stamp includes scenes of the duo wooing Hendrix into a record deal, shaping the Who's visual aesthetic in the mid-1960s and creating Tommy.

“Even when we were structuring it, there was a formal challenge to keep Kit Lambert alive,” says Cooper. He captured Stamp, who died in 2012, with Daltrey and Townshend at the 2008 Kennedy Center Honors. “In Kit’s absence, I took the stance of, ‘OK, I’ll worry about a love story about two opposites.’ One’s alive and one’s dead -- I have to make that a creative advantage. Fortunately, I worked with the right people to do that.”